Candlelight vigil to honor International Overdose Awareness Day

By on August 22, 2018

Six-week-old Brayden Zilling will one day learn about his late Uncle Mike through family memories and photos.

Mike’s childhood bedroom serves as the baby’s nursery when he visits his grandparents, Jim and Pat Zilling. The Denver couple lost their son, Mike, to a drug overdose at age 25. It is his memory and that of others who have died from overdoses that Pat and friend Lea Horner want to honor during a candlelight vigil on Aug. 31. Horner’s daughter, Hannah Dooty, died from an overdose at age 21. The two moms founded You Are Not Alone, a support group that meets monthly in Ephrata for anyone coping with the loss of a family member or friend from an overdose.

“I want every person to know it is a Russian roulette game and you’re not only chancing your life, you are playing Russian roulette with your family’s lives because they will be left without you and that’s a horrible place to be,” Lea said. The gathering of remembrance is planned for 8 p.m. at the Loyd H. Roland Memorial Park gazebo in Akron.

“I want to have a vigil for all of those who have passed away because of this heroin epidemic,” Pat said. All are welcome to attend and are encouraged to bring a candle and a photo of their loved one. Lea’s daughter died in her bedroom at their Ephrata home on March 7, 2016, from heroin containing the strong opioid fentanyl. She tried to save her daughter’s life with CPR but it was too late. The Zillings received a call from Ephrata WellSpan Ephrata Community Hospital on May 28, 2015, that their son wasn’t doing well.

Lea Horner, left, and Pat Zilling each lost a child to drug overdoses. They have founded a support group, You Are Not Alone, and are planning a public vigil for Aug. 31 in Akron.

“I feel the purpose is to remember our loved ones, that they are very special and dear to our hearts. They are not forgotten and for the support for the family to unite together with other families who honor our lost ones,” Lea said of the vigil. Pat said her husband created a photo that combines a picture of their late son and another of Brayden, their first grandchild, born on July 3. The couple placed the photo in Mike’s old bedroom. Pat said it’s been a long time since there was a baby in their home.

“Brayden, this is your Uncle Mike’s room. He is watching over you,” she said. Pat said she thinks about all the things Mike will not experience, including knowing his nephew. Brayden’s parents, Jim and Tara Zilling, live in Ephrata. Pat said the support group, You Are Not Alone, continues to draw new people from all backgrounds. Besides loss, the survivors share something else, she said.

“They all blame themselves. You’ve done everything you could,” she said. The group’s next meeting will be held Monday, Oct. 1 at the Ephrata Community Library. There is no September meeting due to the Labor Day holiday.

Pat sought counseling after her son’s death that followed time he spent in jail and addiction rehabilitation.

“I am in pain. Now it’s not 24/7,” she said. She called her pain the “new normal” in her life.

An LNP news story from early August said overdose deaths in Lancaster County have fallen for the last two quarters of this year, according to the Lancaster County Coroner’s office. The office listed 54 overdose deaths in the first half of 2018 as compared to 82 for the first half of 2017.

Pat said she had heard about that decrease but noted the number of such deaths seems to come in “peaks and valleys.” County Coroner Stephen Diamantoni had said his response to fewer deaths is “cautious optimism” and said the decline has much to do with a lack of “bad batches of drugs” in the area. That could include heroin containing fentanyl like the drug that killed Lea’s daughter. She was one of 117 people who died of overdoses in the county in 2016 while Mike Zilling was one of 80 overdose victims in the county in 2015, according to county records.

Lea responded to the recent county overdose numbers.

“I’m happy that the overdoses are decreasing, however, it’s probably because of Narcan and not the lack of using the drug,” she said. Narcan is a medication that can be given to help save an overdose victim’s life.

Pat said some people involved in another area support group might attend the vigil. That group is called GRASP, an acronym for Grief Recovery After a Substance Passing. Pat said she realizes the vigil coincides with the start of the Labor Day weekend.
“I just hope that people do come.”

Bonnie Adams is a correspondent for The Ephrata Review and welcomes comments or questions at bonniebadams@yahoo.com. 

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